'It's brilliant to have him back'

O'Dorney's O'Leary returns to the senior hurling panel

Damian Stack

Kerry hurling manager Fintan O'Connor has expressed his delight at the return to the fold of Michael O'Leary.

The Abbeydorney man had taken a year out from inter-county hurling in 2018, but was in a position to recommit to the Kerry senior hurlers for the 2019 campaign. He featured for the Kingdom at centre-forward against Limerick in Austin Stack Park late last year.

"It's brilliant to have him back," O'Connor enthused this week.

"He kind of took a year out last year and just couldn't commit to what we expected of a fella on the panel and wasn't able to come into it and this year then he's given a great commitment and he's really come in with his hand up.

"We all know how good Michael is as well when he's committed and how much talent he has and how big he is and how much different he is to some of the other fellas we have available so it's nice to have another string to our bow in the forwards.

"A fella that size with that much ball winning ability it's nice to have him, it's a bonus."

The availability of O'Leary would seem to give the Kingdom the option of playing Mikey Boyle on the half-forward line on a more regular basis.

"The way hurling is gone, you can't have a load of fellas on the half-forward line or in the forwards that are big and strong in the air and not able to chase so it gives us more of a balance to the team," the Kerry hurling boss explained.

"Mikey played centre-back in a lot of games last year, but when we went up to Antrim he played at centre-forward, so it just depends. Where Mikey is needed he'll go and play, that's a good compliment to him as well."

O'Connor, meanwhile, has a number of injury worries ahead of this weekend's Munster Senior Hurling League clash with Tipperary in McDonagh Park in Nenagh (Saturday, 2pm).

"We have a couple of lads kind of injured and not available, but we've been putting in a good effort over the last couple of weeks so hopefully we can improve on how we played against Limerick a little bit," he explained.

"Fionán Mackessy picked up a knock on his back, Daniel Collins still has a problem with his back, Podge Boyle has a little bit of a hamstring that we'd be a little bit worried about.

"Jordan Conway again just a shoulder knock, nothing too serious, but just knocks that you want to mind at this time of the year. Eric Leen is coming back from a groin (strain) that's why we played him for half an hour against Limerick and hopefully we can get another half an hour, forty minutes into him as well. Just a couple of niggles and knocks, nothing too serious."

The challenge posed by Tipperary is sure to be formidable, something O'Connor (who lives in the Premier county) is more than familiar with.

"I was just looking at their training panel, I think it was on Twitter, and I was just looking at the names and there's no name there that you wouldn't like to have on your own panel. They're all very good hurlers, but whatever team Liam Sheedy puts out I'm sure it will be a good team as far as we're concerned."

Despite increased debate about the place of these pre-season competitions in the GAA calendar, O'Connor is clear that it is of benefit to the Kingdom to compete.

"We're happy to pit our wits against the real superstars in hurling and try be competitive for as long as we can be," he said.

"We were never going to beat Limerick and it would be unfair to suggest we were, but we matched them at times, creating chances and turnovers and we have loads to work on.

"I suppose playing the likes of Limerick and Tipp lets us see how much we have to work on so from that point of view that's why we love to get the chance to play in this competition."